In part two of our coverage of Afropunk Paris, read more “Real Beauty Moments” from women who came from all over Europe to attend the festival. They discuss racism in Europe and abroad, hair stories, and black beauty. (Don’t miss part one of our coverage!)
Naomi Owusu Nsiah, Hometown: Amsterdam, Base: Birmingham
I faced quite a few challenges growing up in Amsterdam, especially with my hair. When I went natural, it wasn’t really common to see people with their natural hair, so it was really like a statement that I walked around with short one inch hair on my head. Everybody was like, your hair is not going to grow, black girls don’t grow long hair, it’s going to take you 10 years to grow your hair back to the same length. It’s been four years now and my hair is longer than it used to be. That’s really what I had to overcome. I had to change the whole concept of what people thing about black females and their hair—the fact that you can’t ware your hair out because it doesn’t look professional or it doesn’t look mature enough.
One of the reasons I moved out of Holland was because of the racism within the institution. Like, they did not allow me to do the things that you do. Once they see that you’re colored or from a different ethnicity than white and you’re progressing, they’ll do anything to get you down. But they’ll do it in a way where you won’t see it as racism.
Like, I was in a very white school and all the white students were doing really big things and I wanted to go into health care like mental health nursing, but they wouldn’t allow me to do it. They wanted me to go and do economy and business. That’s like a completely different ally. I was like no, I’m not going to allow you guys to dim my shine. I’m just going to go somewhere else where I can actually do what I want to do. That’s why I ended up in the United Kingdom.
Right now I’m a university student. I study mental health nursing. I hope to progress into psychiatry because I want to be a psychiatrist nurse.
To me it’s a concept of freedom. Especially because of everything that afropunk stands for, like the whole no homophobia, no racism, and no sexism. I stand for that because I know people who’ve gone through things like that, including myself. The fact that Afropunk has a festival dedicated to all these kinds of things is very liberating. I love it. I love Afropunk.
Samantha Clarke, London
My glasses and necklace are actually from Paris from a mother and son collective hand making it. My style is eclectic, a bit elegant, a little chic. I like details. I’m really a big ring fan, accessories, glasses, that kind of thing.
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black in London
It’s interesting being a black woman in London. It has its challenges, but I’ve got a really interesting circle of friends who are from Africa, the Caribbean, and parts of the middle east. London is eclectic and there’s lots of different variety but I think it’s difficult in some instances unless we all stick together and really collaborate and push each other forward, so I find for me I build great foundations, and friends that I have, and stay close to my culture, when business is tough and you try to push forward.
Racism in London can be subliminal in terms of it being racist. I think there are certain opportunities that we have to fight a lot harder for. I’ve always been groomed to know that there’s an extra toughness that you need to have as a strong black woman. I work for myself so I’m definitely pushing and trying to succeed to different levels, but I’m surrounded by other black male and females who are doing strong entrepreneurial businesses and striving, so we can do it. It’s not impossible. I’m a happiness and change consultant, so I work with companies helping them to figure out how to create the workplace and the environment that’s going to stimulate their employees and make them happier and feel like they can grow effectively. Then for individuals I help them figure out what happiness at work means for them. We’re in a really good time to create our own path and our own journeys and push forward.
Nailah, Hometown: Paris, Madagascan heritage
I’ve had critics about my hair, but it’s rare. A group of young people on the Metro said that my hair looks like a dead cat, so [laughs]. At first it was humiliating, but after I said, I like my hair, so I don’t care.
Afropunk, A Novelty in France
It’s rare to have an Afro event in France, so I just want to see people who are like me and who want to sell and buy things here.
I’m a student of cinema. I want to make movies and produce them in Africa or in France.
Bella Kuffour, Hometown: London, English and Ghanaian heritage
It’s a place where I can be myself. my friends are here and I’ve never been to Paris. I haven’t been to Afropunk in New York, but I definitely want to go this year.
I grew up in a small town in Kent, England. There were a lot of white people there. It was hard to do my own thing and fit in. I overcame that by moving to London. Everyone is a lot more accepting of who you want to be. You can go out on the street in your pajamas and no one cares. I haven’t experienced racism in London yet. I’ve never really had that feeling. Maybe when I was a lot younger.
My style is weird. I like to wear stuff that other people haven’t got. It’s different. My pants are by Mojo Kojo.
Chalene Grandison, Hometown: London, St Kitts and Jamaican descent
This is My Normal
I’ve always been colorful. I’ve always loved punk. So I just thought what could I clash pink with: blue, purple, black. I was going to go for blonde as well but couldn’t find the right shade I wanted so I just left it. I basically braided it, curled it up, and did all the techniques, then I put it up to the side. I’ve also got this somewhat Afrocentric necklace. It’s a mixture of cultures: London, Africa, and the Caribbean, all that kind of thing.
To me this look is natural. This is me on a normal. Some days I have plain black hair. I usually have some kind of punk going on to be fair. Last week my hair was half black half blond, a couple of weeks before that I was all red. I like my shoes. I like being as high as possible. I always have something interesting going on.
I have been called a Bounty (British candy bar that is chocolate on the outside and white on the inside). They say I’m well spoken. But I think, ‘how should a black person speak?’ I don’t try to live up to anyone’s standards, I do what I enjoy, and I enjoy pink, I enjoy color, I enjoy mixing things up, I enjoy going over the top. I could have gone further than this. There’s always another level.
This is a celebration of all things Afrocentric. I’m surprised to hear it’s coming to London, so I’m going to be very happy to go to that. I’d love to go to the in Atlanta. I’d love to see that. I think it’s because I’m a creative. I’m a designer. I make leather bags. I also sing as well so I’m hoping to do some music as well. So I guess that all ties in.
Katoucha Falling, Hometown: London, Base: Paris
So far thanks to my mom, in terms of hair, she was like listen, stop relaxing your hair and just wear it just like it is. That was it really. My mom is from Cameroon. I live in Paris now, but I lived in London for years.
Africa and Beyond
I’m an editor for webzines between London and the U.S. as well and Africa. There’s some up and coming good stuff in Africa and I’m collaborating with them. A lot of the entrepreneurs are pushing up the rise of the African continent, which is quite important, not just in terms of beauty, it’s everything basically, whether it’s culture and all that jazz, it’s quite important to do that. There are really beautiful things happening there.
Afropunk is a culture. It’s really important. They are pushing the boundaries of being ourselves where it’s Europe, America, south America, all of us who are here we’ve been a force through the diaspora spread around the world. They’re trying to gather all that culture together. That’s what Afropunk means to me and it’s really beautiful. I hope they keep doing that. It’s really up and up and up. It’s really amazing. What I love most about being a black woman is being myself. I don’t owe anything to anyone.
Kimberly Marie Ashby, Hometown: Philadelphia, Base: Boston
Mental Health and Blackness
I had an eating disorder for many years of my adolescence. I was kind of told by my mom, ‘thank God I don’t have to worry about you with that kind of thing because that happens to white girls,’ which is like a larger message that black people don’t have mental health issues and we’re always comfortable with our bodies regardless of white standards of beauty and that’s just not true. When you live in a white supremacist society that’s going to have an influence. I’m a mental health counselor, a psychotherapist, I’m a researcher in counseling and phycology and I study race and culture and it’s been really important to me to study the intersections between race and mental health and anything beauty is a huge part of that when it comes to the way in which black women experience their identities. We’ve gone from everything to fetishization to being masculinized and everything in between. Even though a lot of those stereotypes come from slavery back in the day they’re present today.
What I love most about me
I think what I love most about myself is my ability to create and be adventurous and take risks. I think those things are all kind of connected. Because I found that dealing with mental health issues that I’ve dealt with, being creative has been the biggest healing mechanism. Really expressing myself, my story, and my narrative through the arts. Impacting over people in that way makes meaning of the things I’ve experienced.
Cecilia Moussy, Hometown: Paris, Cameroonian descent
People have difficulties understanding my style. Like my hair, sometimes people ask me questions. They want to know why I cut my hair or if I was afraid to do it. I don’t know why I cut it. One day I just decided to do it because I wasn’t used to styling my hair.
I think it means being different. I think people don’t expect black people to be punk. So it’s a way to show we can do a lot of things. I think I have a lot of different styles. I just mix the things I have. I love black but I also love color.